on June 23, 2021 (last modified on February 13, 2023) • 24 minute read
Most companies primarily present their reports in meetings, according to recent research on business reporting. Let’s call out the elephant in the room — many of those reporting meetings should be a Loom video or an email walking through your dashboard. That’s because the typical reporting meeting structure is reactive, happens too frequently, and only covers surface-level topics.
While it might be impractical to do away with all reporting meetings cold turkey (Hey, we get it!), there are plenty of opportunities to make these meetings more productive and avoid the most common reporting mistakes.This is especially true when you consider the fact that 52% of the respondents we surveyed hold weekly reporting meetings.
If each meeting is an hour, that’s around four hours a month and ~48 hours a year. That’s an entire work week just for reporting meetings. 🤯
That doesn’t account for all of the time that you and your team spend preparing for each meeting, which is usually 1-3 hours per meeting — according to our survey (you can track this with the help of a employee time tracking dashboard)
Now, we’ve got your attention.
Here are some curated tips for running more productive reporting meetings regardless of if you meet weekly, monthly, or less frequently.
Over half of the folks we surveyed hold their meetings weekly. Of the folks who do weekly meetings, 47.37% need 1 – 3 hours to prepare for the meeting.
Here are the reporting tips they shared to make your weekly meetings more productive.
Getting in the habit of creating an agenda is a great tip for any meeting, not just reporting meetings.
“Creating an agenda for the meeting is the most helpful thing a CEO or manager can do,” says Ruben Gamez of Docsketch. “Everybody knows that the overall theme is going to be team leads reporting about their respective weeks. Having a specific agenda will reduce time wasted and add more purpose to the whole meeting. Also, it’s a great opportunity to make sure nothing important is left out.”
Miklos Zoltan of Privacy Affairs adds, “It should include everything you want to talk about. An agenda does not have to be a multi-page document. While you can prepare a beautifully structured agenda in a Word doc, a text-only email will suffice. Simply list the important points you’ll cover in points.
If you’re meeting in person, you should give this agenda to your client ahead of time, but you should also have printed copies in hand. This paper should, in theory, keep you on track and on time throughout the meeting. For example, if your client asks a question about the fall ad messaging when you’re still analyzing the July data, you can tell them you’ll get back to them later.
Of course, you won’t be able to completely eliminate off-topic discussions, but you should prepare ahead of time to address all of the subjects that you know are important to your client’s objectives. Aside from the functional benefits of an agenda, it also communicates organization and strategic command, reminding a client that they are in good hands.”
Organizing all of your data into a central hub can save time when writing your meeting agenda.
“The most helpful thing I do is to ensure I have all the data I need and all potential repositories readily available,” says Dominic Kent of Mio. “So, if I’m surprised by a question from other meeting participants, all I need to do is flick to the right report or filter out some information. As much as it pays to have everything prepared, there’s always one question you can’t pre-prepare for.”
Michael Knight of Incorporation Insight adds, “A day before the meeting, I download all of the data I’ll need from my client tracking dashboard and prepare all of my presentation slides so that I’m prepared and ready when the meeting arrives. I also make a list of all of my talking points for my report so that I don’t forget anything important. Finally, I send all meeting attendees references a day before the meeting so they can review them and get a sense of what I’ll be reporting on.”
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“Reporting meetings should be more about the “why” things happened and not “what” happened,” explains Kogan Page. “This is a key essence of the world I helped to invent and pioneer: data literacy. Individuals need strong data literacy to drive the results and insight necessary to make smarter decisions.
To prepare for reporting meetings, it is key that the team have answers to why the numbers look the way they do, not just show up and regurgitate what is in the dashboards that we can run on our own. I learned from a colleague and CTO long ago that we need to hold people accountable to the dashboards and reports, not for them. If all we do is hold them accountable to produce the dashboards, we could be missing out on the insight the dashboard could provide. The team will focus on producing the dashboard versus the insight therein.”
Daniella Gama-Diaz of Lights On Creative agrees, “When preparing for a reporting meeting, the most important thing to do is analyze the “why” behind the strategy, and see how that reflects in the analytics. For example, if part of the strategy to increase conversions was adding more form-fills to the page, analyze the conversions. If they went up, note the strategy!”
Lee Wilson of Vertical Leap adds, “Take a step back from all of the standard data and metrics being reported on, refresh myself on the current objectives, and consider what else I would like to hear if the roles were reversed, and what would make me listen and become engaged in the conversation. All too often reporting is one-sided communication when it can be more collaborative.”
One effective way to focus on “the why” is to use your data to tell a story.
“Data can be used to tell a story.” explains Dusan Stanar of VSS Monitoring. “It’s all about telling a good story and backing it up with relevant evidence when it comes to reporting. Many agencies make the mistake of simply placing analytics data into a report and calling it a day. Clients want more than just raw data reporting. They’re paying you to analyze their data and make suggestions about how to boost their performance. We enjoy sharing the granular data points that we see on a monthly basis and highlighting something that performs well. Our team’s best advice is to concentrate less on the granular data points and more on the overall tale that those data points tell.”
Linnea Zielinski of Hurrdat adds, “In any role that requires reporting, you’re not just relaying data; you should also be translating. Spending time to think about how the person to whom you’re reporting measures success and creating a supplemental report that relays performance in these terms is the most helpful thing you can do for you, your organization, and the recipient of your reporting (whether that’s the C-suite or a client). SEO strategists often struggle to convey the importance of their efforts to company leadership. Most of the time this is a translation issue. SEOs speak in metrics like rank, traffic, and conversion to C-suite executives who better understand revenue and opportunity cost. To report effectively, an SEO strategist could take the increase in organic traffic they’ve achieved and break it down in terms of how much the company would have had to spend through SEM to attain that traffic through paid channels.”
Some people might find it helpful to organize their thoughts with slides.
Jeff Baker of Brafton says, “Your reporting should always start with an executive slide that reports the critical four metrics that your decision maker/C-suite cares about. This slide should be plain English, bottom line ROI data.”
Jonathan Zacharias of GR0 adds, “For starters, you always want to organize the meeting’s content into slide decks so that everyone can follow along. This also helps stay away from digression and tangents that prolong the meeting. You want to include a slide for the agenda that outlines who and what will be addressed and approximately how long to keep on topic and on time. Next, you want to cover relevant metrics and guidance for observing them and review of the previous month’s numbers. After, you want to note what went well and all the success as well as the places that need improvement. Lastly, you want to close out with a game plan for next month’s goals. This tried-and-true formula will keep your meetings succinct and optimal.”
Others might stick with dashboards.
“Honestly, the best thing you can do to prepare for a reporting meeting is to have good dashboards that tell clear data stories,” says Alex Birkett. “These should be accessible at any time, and the meeting just holds space to talk about trends as well as diving into deeper analyses that may be relevant (which, also, you should prepare for those in advance and anticipate questions before they come up). I like to use DataBox and sometimes Google Data Studio and share a link with clients.”
Francis Angelo Reyes of Lupage Digital adds,“When the meeting involves showing a dashboard of data, I look at the data and go over important items. Then take notes. It helps if your tabs in your browser and other tools are open and ready. It’s important to equip yourself with action items and answers to “so what?” questions when reporting dashboards. Whether internally or with a client, I keep my schedule open before a meeting to avoid overlaps and being late.”
If you are looking for easy-to-use and free-to-download dashboard templates, browse through all available dashboard examples here, or jump directly to project management dashboard templates.
In addition, most would benefit from running through their key points once or twice before the meeting.
“In each reporting meeting, I have to prepare a quick presentation to update my team with the progress I have made,” says John Vo of Destination: Everywhere. “I find it very helpful to mentally walk myself through the presentation. I would visualize talking to my colleagues and make notes of the important point. This strategy helps me to go into the meeting prepared and ready.”
Whenever possible, incorporate historical performance data in your analysis.
Ian Sells of Rebate Key says, “I review previous campaigns and projects’ results and compare them with current results. I also have an outline of all the important things to discuss as well as highlights, changes, drawbacks, and improvements.”“Use visualization to illustrate the narrative of the report prior to the presentation,” explains Anthony Chen of PaidSearch.Pro. “I like to use historical data as a reference when I present reports to the client. Preparation on reviewing historical performances helped me in crafting the narrative for any reporting meeting because I can engage with the client in a story-telling way while using numbers to back the narrative.”
For example, Joe Allen of Belu Media says, “I always check to see the performance of the campaign we are working on for the client. I then write a list of questions that I feel the client might ask me. I will structure detailed answers for the questions. Another thing I will look at it is what does the report actually say, why should the client care? does this report help them get to their own personal and company goals. If I am not able to answer these questions in the report, I will rewrite it and structure it so it help them understand the performance, why they should care and how it helps them get to their goals.”
According to our survey, 44.44% of respondents need 1-3 hours to prepare for monthly reporting meetings.
Here’s the advice for making your monthly reporting meetings more effective.
One way to speed up the process is to use a standard reporting structure or reporting template.
“Consistency is key for quick meeting prep,” says Brandon Wright of ThoughtLab. “Having a reporting structure that covers the exact same metrics in the exact same place every time will save you countless hours of preparation.”
You can leverage your existing marketing tools to make this process less time-consuming.
For example, Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe & Co. says, “We utilize HubSpot for reporting, which allows us to focus on the analysis to drive better business insights. During our preparation process, we dig deep into the metrics that are underperforming for our clients and compare them to industry benchmarks ahead of time. This enables us to recommend concrete strategies for achieving business goals.”
Editor’s note: Marketing teams can use this HubSpot dashboard template that shows all the key performance indicators your business needs to view on a monthly basis from HubSpot Marketing.
“Considering the interests of your clients is the most essential thing,” says Anatolii Ulitovskyi of SEOquick. “Some customers don’t like getting many numbers and sharing unnecessary insights for them in the report. It’s enough to share dimensions and metrics from Google Analytics. They aren’t interested in what you’ve done to achieve it. The rest wanna get everything that you can show. How many outreach emails you’ve sent, time spending, full explanations to all details. It sometimes takes a few days to prepare for this meeting and a few hours talking to them on Zoom or Skype. From my experience, results are higher with someone who wants to know more. It’s not because I work less with clients who pay attention to other priorities. The main reason is that they understand much better recommendations, new ideas, content editing and what we need to get higher results.”
L-J Geekie of Spitfire Inbound adds, “You have to understand what you are presenting in great detail. I like to talk myself through a report and anticipate possible questions to ensure that I can address these without hesitation. When you are preparing the presentation, put yourself in the shoes of the person that you are presenting to, understand from the perspective of the receiver, so you can give them the most value for the time that they have committed to you.”
One way to make your meetings more proactive is to send your report a day or two before the meeting. This gives people a chance to review it and come with questions in advance.
“One of the things most meeting managers forget is to send the report ahead of time,” says Aaron Agius of Louder Online. “Some do it just before the meeting, but I believe it’s important to do it at least a day earlier to give clients enough time to prepare for it. Send your clients performance reports ahead of time so they can review them in time to ensure a more productive meeting. On top of that, make sure you always send a meeting recap as well!”
For example, Michael Robinson of Cheap SSL Security adds,“I believe that the most essential thing to prepare for a report meeting is to send your client a copy of the study in advance of the meeting so they can review it. They’ll be able to ask questions based on what they’ve read this way. Make sure that any member of your agency’s team who will be present at the meeting has read the report ahead of time. Although the report may have been written by a member of the analytics team, an account manager may have just skimmed it. I usually hold a short internal conversation on what’s in the report to help strengthen advance comprehension, providing advance explanations for any indicators that might seem negative, as well as pointing out positive and negative performance points. To ensure that I present a completely unified presentation to customers, I address any internal questions or ideas.”
It is also a good idea to have someone else on your team review it first.
Kristina Frunze of Build Media Group says, “We always get two or three team members to review each report and see whether any trends jump out that the first person missed. Marketing data can be very complex so an extra set of eyes is often quite helpful.”
Sean Si of SEO Hacker adds,“Before a reporting meeting, what I like to do is sit down and have a 30-minute session with everyone involved with the client and just talk to them about everything that I need to know about the client. It’s hard to base everything that I need to know off of the reports and the presentation. Talking to the team gives me confidence for what I’m about to present to the client. It also keeps me prepared for any questions that clients may ask.”
It is one thing to simply present the data. It is more valuable to add context.
“As marketers, it is really easy for us to go into the weeds with our reporting,” says Julia Tiedt of SmartBug Media. “One thing to keep in mind when presenting is context. If you say a page is performing really well, how do you know? If “x” number of leads is great, how much revenue can we attribute to that? Many of the people we report lean towards the big picture and don’t know industry standards. It’s all about connecting the dots for the team.”
Jasz Joseph of Jasz Rae Digital adds, “Besides just looking at and pulling the data, it is important to come to a meeting with insights around the ‘why’ behind what the data is showing. Instead of saying “the bounce rate increased this month,” it is much more impactful to be able to say “the bounce rate increased after we published the new blog about XYZ. I do not think that content resonated as much with our audience as last month’s blog post.” This allows you to have meaningful conversations about what your target audience is interested in and likes to see.”
It is also helpful to point out both the good as well as opportunities for growth.
“When preparing for a client’s reporting meeting, our team will look at each section of the report—broken down by service—and identify successes and/or areas of improvement,” says Nikki Staley of Cosmitto. “To take it a step further, we then strategize that improvement before the meeting so that we’re able to come to the client with recommendations and a plan of action to implement once we’ve received sign-off from them. We’ve found that this process helps keep to a consistent deliverable schedule and helps us gain the trust of our clients, who look to us for answers to why certain marketing strategies work (and sometimes don’t work) for them.”
Carlos Rosado of Outlook Studios adds,“When reviewing the data, look at what is performing well that the client will want to talk about and discuss something you saw as an anomaly and that it is part of your strategy for the next month. By doing this I am prepared for any surprises but I am also showing the client that I am being proactive with their account and finding solutions to problems before they start.”
It is easy to tune out, answer emails, or think through other work projects during a reporting meeting. Keeping everyone focused and minimizing distractions will help you run more productive and proactive meetings.
“It’s very important to ensure a calm and well-organized meeting room every time I call for a reporting meeting because a disturbance-free meeting room is essential for concentrating on every detail that the team members are trying to present,” says Andrew Steinmann of Inkable label. “It will help the other members to focus on the key issues more effectively and suggest possible solutions against the arised issues.”
By now, you may have noticed a theme. People spend about the same amount of time preparing for these meetings regardless of the meeting frequency.
When you meet less frequently, here are some tips to help jog your memory and ensure these meetings are productive.
This might sound obvious, but it is easy to overlook the importance of reviewing past meeting goals and notes.
“The most helpful thing I do to prepare for a reporting meeting is to look back on the goals we’ve set in our previous meetings,” says Andrew Raso of Online Marketing Gurus. “From there, I evaluate our current standings to set the direction for our meeting. Doing this helps keep our meetings productive and goal-driven.”
Eva Frohna of University of Advancing Technology adds, “When preparing for a reporting meeting, I always make sure to start by reading through the minutes and notes from the last meeting that was held. This way, I am able to create an agenda that addresses any pressing action items that need to be followed up on and cleared. Once I have a list of action items and any new business to discuss, I always ensure that the meeting attendees have the agenda in their inboxes at least 24 hours before the scheduled start time. This allows them to prepare for thoughtful discussions, bring any questions or concerns they might have, and leaves breathing room if any changes need to be made to their presentations.”
Courtney Wilkinson of Vine Street Digital agrees, “For a client reporting meeting, it is always helpful to review notes, goals and plans moving forward discussed in the previous meeting. From here I can identify the wins and challenges of working towards those goals. From here, I ensure I have some options/plan in place to address those challenges and how we can overcome them.”
Reviewing past meeting notes is helpful. However, if you build a habit of recording all the good and bad stuff as it happens, this will save you even more time.
“I truly think the biggest boost to a productive and successful reporting meeting is,” says Burton Lash of Tenant Inc. “I keep track of every single thing I do for my clients. I use Asana (but any task management tool will work) and will log and notate every item I accomplish for them. It can be as simple as updating a meta description to more complex things like adding schema to certain pages. Whatever it is, write it down. When it comes time to build your report and let your clients know what you accomplished for them since your last meeting I can almost guarantee you that you have not remembered every little thing you did. Especially if you are juggling multiple clients. This can be quickly developed into a habit which can really help you demonstrate value to your clients.”
Getting into the mindset of your boss or client can help you anticipate the questions they might ask. You can use this to think through some answers in advance.
“My #1 tip for preparing for a reporting meeting is to plan what questions you’ll likely be asked about your report and develop responses in advance,” says Daivat Dholakia of Force by Mojio. “For example, if you’re reporting on your latest online marketing campaign, you can probably anticipate questions about how it impacted sales through your website. After you put your report together, imagine you’re attending a presentation on it and come up with a list of questions you would have. Then write down the answers to those questions. You should also be prepared for opinion-based questions like “What changes need to be made to improve this?” or “What were the pros and cons to this approach?”
One of the biggest mistakes marketers make is only talking about vanity metrics in their reports and reporting meetings.
Tiffany Lewis of More Meaningful Marketing explains, “The most helpful thing you can do to prepare for a reporting meeting is to make sure you’ve looked at your metrics beyond face value. Especially in the world of digital marketing, data often extends beyond impressions and reach. Ask yourself, “which audiences were targeted, which age ranges, do you notice any short- or long-term trends in your data, can you draw conclusions on when people converted or what led them to a purchasing decision?” These can all be helpful ways to dissect your data in a way that not only brings meaningful context, but that shows you understand the data beyond vanity metrics.”
Given the fact that people spend roughly the same amount of time preparing for reporting meetings whether they occur weekly, monthly, or less frequently, it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest experimenting with holding less meetings. You can fill in the gaps with async reporting status updates. This allows you and your team to spend more time doing the work and driving results and less time building fancy reports in Excel and Powerpoint.
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